Monday, October 29, 2007

Warmup: "We are as gods..."

Stewart Brand famously opened the 1968 Whole Earth Catalog with these words:

We are as gods and might as well get good at it. So far, remotely done power and glory--as via government, big business, formal education, church--has succeeded to the point where gross defects obscure actual gains. In response to this dilemma and to these gains a realm of intimate, personal power is developing--power of the individual to conduct his own education, find his own inspiration, shape his own environment, and share his adventure with whoever is interested. Tools that aid this process are sought and promoted by the WHOLE EARTH CATALOG.
Brand says in the Winter 1998 Whole Earth Review:
Credit where it's due: I stole the line. Page one, chapter one of A Runaway World? by British anthropologist Edmund Leach (Oxford, 1968) begins:
Men have become like gods. Isn't it about time that we understood our divinity? Science offers us total mastery over our environment and over our destiny, yet instead of rejoicing we feel deeply afraid. Why should this be? How might these fears be resolved?
But at some point Leach continues,
We simply must take charge of our own fate. We must somehow see to it that the decisions which have long-term consequences are taken by men who understand what they are doing and not by bewildered amateurs.
Amateurs, of course, being exactly who Brand wanted to empower.

(I learned of the Brand-Leach connection in the excellent book What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, by John Markoff (p. 155))

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